Monday, November 29

The Memory of the Wild: The New Era of Nature-Driven Tourism in South America | South America Vacation

meIn 1947, Christopher Isherwood went on a six-month tour of South America, concentrating on cultural venues, big cities, and rubbing shoulders with the great locals. The title of the travel journal he wrote about the trip, The Condor and the Cows, sums up how most Europeans felt about South America. While the condor has since been pushed to the brink of extinction, the cows have persisted: Outsiders still view Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela as primarily agricultural nations and global granaries.

Other Latin American countries are known for their wine, coffee, tropical fruits, soybeans, and fish meal. Colombia, the country with the greatest biodiversity in the world per square kilometer, it is better known for its cocaine exports than for its dazzling birdlife.

But conservationists in several countries are trying to correct this imbalance. At the end of 2020, the Rewilding Argentina Foundation reported that the first red and green macaw chicks had been born in the Iberá wetlands, in the northeast, for more than a century. Hunted for their feathers, meat, and as pets, and decimated by loss of habitat, the birds are listed as critically endangered in Argentina; Another species that was once widespread, the blue-gray glaucous macaw, is extinct.

Elena Martin, who oversees the macaw breeding project, says: “The reproduction of the scarlet macaw in nature is very important for our project because it helps us to create sustainable populations so that they fulfill their role in the ecosystem.” Macaws help spread seeds and repopulate areas with trees.

The anteater
The anteater is also part of the Latin American recovery scheme. Photograph: Inti Ocón / Getty Images

The macaws are part of an ambitious plan to reintroduce several animals to their former ranges, including anteaters, lowland tapirs, pampas deer, collared peccaries, giant river otters, and jaguars; restoration of apex predators and carnivores is vital to control other populations and balance the food chain. Two jaguar cubs were born in captivity in November 2020 and the jaguars are expected to be released into the wild next year.

Meanwhile, the Colombian government recently approved wide-ranging sustainable tourism policies under the slogan Together with Nature. The country’s deputy tourism minister, Julián Guerrero Orozco, who used to work as a wildlife guide in Tanzania, says the country is only now awakening to its potential as a nature tourism destination. “We have the opportunity to build a new type of tourism, more serious and better researched. I really believe that Colombia could provide a model of sustainability for the rest of the world ”. Colombia is a signatory of the Future of Tourism Coalition, which commits members to a series of ecological and environmental goals.

Decades of civil strife and wars on drugs in Colombia have kept the areas off-limits to developers, making them ideal for reconstruction and ecotourism. Scientists from the Universidad de los Andes have published six woolly monkeys in the forests of southern Huila, rescued red-footed tortoises have been released in the department of Meta, and ex-FARC combatants have been recruited to train as conservationists and forest guardians as part of the program. Peace with nature Program.

Woolly monkey
Six woolly monkeys have been reintroduced in the forests of Huila, southern Colombia. Photograph: Ger Bosma / Getty Images

The town of La Macarena, south of Bogotá, stands out for its biodiversity, as well as attractions such as the multicolored rivers of Caño Cristales and the ancient rock art in the Chiribiquete National Park. According to pioneering conservationist Roque Sevilla, president of Future Foundation and creator of the Mashpi Lodge in Ecuador, the region has great potential for ecotourism. “I first visited three years ago and was in awe. The variety of wildlife is spectacular: on a first short trip down the Guayabero River we saw six species of monkeys, two species of dolphins, alligators, and many hundreds of birds. We set up a camera trap and in just four hours of filming we had captured images of a tapir, a jaguar, a cougar and a raccoon.

“The rich geology and history mixed with countless natural wonders make it, in my opinion, the most beautiful place in Colombia, and perhaps in the entire region.”

Waterfalls at Caño Cristales in La Macarena.
Waterfalls at Caño Cristales in La Macarena, Colombia. Photography: Alamy

In Ecuador and Peru, community-led programs, forest purchases, and monitoring schemes are helping to protect spectacled bears, as well as ocelot, jaguarundi and mountain tapir. In Chilean Patagonia, How to store Tompkins advocates a “refreshing approach to conservation,” creating corridors for pumas and other wild cats, huemul deer, Darwin’s rhea, guanaco, Wolffsohn’s vizcacha and condor.

Comuna do Ibitipoca, an ecotourism complex in Minas Gerais, Brazil, has begun a long-term plan to recover key species from its greatly reduced Atlantic rainforest. It has licenses to reintroduce the tapir, the scarlet macaw, the woolly spider monkey and two spectacular birds, the solitary tinamou and the stone guan.

In all these areas, tourism can be a means of monetizing and promoting reconstruction. The best projects, says Thomas Power, co-founder of tour operator Pure adventure, arise from local needs and knowledge and are open to travelers on regular budgets. “The Route of the Parks of Chile is an ambitious and world-class development model through conservation tourism. It connects 17 national parks that cover 11.8 million hectares of unspoiled nature along a 1,740-mile route that links more than 60 communities. Vast grasslands, once destroyed by overgrazing and divided by miles of fencing, are flourishing again thanks to pioneering rebuilding work.

“What is special about this region for visitors is that instead of luxury hotels, they can stay with local hosts in their privately owned guesthouses. Because these places are so remote, getting there is not cheap, but visitors help create the financial incentive for local people to protect these precious habitats for the long term. “

A deer from the southern Andes,
Deer from the southern Andes, also known as the Chilean huemul (Hippocamelus Bisulcus): an endangered species native to Argentina and Chile. Photograph: Andres Diez / Getty Images

Many regions of Latin America rival countries like Madagascar, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in terms of biodiversity. The heads of tourism hope that one day the Argentine pampas and brazilian closed (a vast region of savanna) could deserve recognition among wildlife tourists who enjoy the African grasslands.

South America already has its big five (for the record, they are jaguar, anteater, tapir, river otter, and maned wolf). It already has tents and portable campsites in its national parks. It already has flamboyant topography, biting insects, hairy spiders and poisonous snakes, and things that squawk and screech at night. If you lack wildebeest and buffalo, at least you have large herds of Aberdeen Angus and Hereford cattle.

While it also faces great challenges, from Chinese fishing fleets near the Galapagos to the fires raging in the Amazon, reconstruction and conservation schemes allied to ecotourism and political will could be transformative for the continent.

“The safari hot spots in Africa are home to a large number of mammals, but fewer species and less biodiversity when it comes to insects, bird species and flora than places in South America, where the large number of species is extraordinary,” says Roque Sevilla.

“As long as one can understand and appreciate the differences between the ecosystems of the United States and Africa, South America can absolutely compete.”

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